Lafayette City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux on Tuesday called on the public library system to build a new regional facility in northeast Lafayette, on par with five others that have sprung up throughout the parish over the last two decades as part of a capital plan.
Boudreaux spoke a couple hours before the council voted to approve a ballot measure to shift library surpluses to other needs in the parish, namely drainage, roads, bridges and parks. Voters will consider that measure on Oct. 12.
The library’s coffers remain flush with a $26 million fund balance even after completing its capital plan, resulting in scrutiny of whether the system needs that much money. Voters last year declined to renew one of three property taxes that benefit the library.
The resolution before the council on Tuesday was to ask voters to rededicate $18 million of the fund balance. That was reduced by amendment to $10 million, a move that Boudreaux supported. He said he wants the $8 million difference to go toward a new library east of the Interstate 49-Evangeline Thruway dividing line.
The library’s capital plan resulted in four new regional facilities — designated as east, west, north and south — as well as major upgrades to the main branch in downtown Lafayette. Boudreaux said in a news conference Tuesday that east side residents have been told to visit the main branch, without consideration of the railroad tracks and other barriers making it difficult to cross the roadways that split east from west.
There are no brick-and-mortar library buildings east of the dividing line, with a bookmobile the only library resource dedicated to the eastern part of the dividing line. The new East Regional branch in Youngsville is on the west side, Boudreaux noted.
“I am not going to settle for a bookmobile,” Boudreaux said. “What is it about our community that says that’s good enough?”
There are two smaller library branches within striking distance of northeast Lafayette residents — albeit still on the west side of Evangeline Thruway, in the Chenier Center and the Butler Memorial Branch at the Martin Luther King Recreation Center — but they are inadequate, Boudreaux said.
The Chenier Center branch is difficult to find with bad signage, and as for Butler Memorial, Boudreaux said he is “ashamed to say someone thought it was a broom closet.”
Boudreaux also noted the regional libraries and main branch are open for full or nearly full days on Saturday and Sunday, while the only weekend hours at either of the two branches near the northeast side are four hours on Saturday at the Chenier Branch. Butler Memorial is open only four days per week, for fours at a time.
The operating hours and locations of the two branches represent an academic disadvantage for young students living on the northeast side who lack home internet access, said Alton Trahan, vice president of 100 Black Men of Greater Lafayette, which runs tutoring programs in Lafayette Parish schools.
“They can’t get there on their bikes, and they don’t have a parent to bring them," said Trahan, who spoke at Boudreaux's news conference.
Library construction is ultimately up to the system’s independent Board of Control, and any rededication would require voter approval in the Oct. 12 election. The board’s finance chairman, Andrew Duhon, told the council before the vote the library would likely need to use some of the fund balance — what remains of it — to cover operating deficits anticipated in the near future.
“We do plan to dip into it,” Duhon said.
But Boudreaux, who has been calling for a library in northeast Lafayette for years, said he hoped the board would listen to public pressure.
"If the people really want this, they should let that be seen in their actions. If they do the appropriate things, I have all the confidence in the world the library board of control will follow suit," Boudreaux said.
The library director, Teresa Elberson, declined an interview request Tuesday concerning Boudreaux’s call for a new library.
Council members engaged in a lengthy debate in the meeting following Boudreaux's news conference concerning how much money to shift away from the library, and where to shift it. Councilman Jay Castille proposed an amendment to reduce the amount $10 million, in line with Boudreaux's wishes.
Councilmen William Theriot, in his comments, didn't object to the smaller amount Castille proposed. Theriot instead questioned Castille for splitting off a portion of the $10 million to parks and recreation, especially when Youngsville and Broussard already impose municipal sales taxes for city sports complexes.
Castille's amendment put $2 million to the parish parks department, leaving $8 million for drainage, roads and bridges. Theriot predicted that would ultimately sink the ballot measure.
“Is this being put in place to make sure that it fails?” Theriot said.
Theriot and Jared Bellard, who co-sponsored the initial measure to shift $18 million, both voted against Castille's amendment and the motion. Theriot offered an amendment to reduce the amount to $14 million, with $2 million going to parks and recreation, but the motion died for lack of a second.